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Does story motivate you to keep playing a game?


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I must admit that I think the stories for most video games are pretty stupid. I speak not only of the plot to the latest Mario game, but the ones that do have some thought put into them. Often times, I'm tempted to simply skip over cut scenes if the game allows me to do so, though I usually don't because those they do sometimes explain what you need to do and how you need to do it. Aside from providing some much-needed exposition, I find attempts to add drama to the game through characters to be a bit unnecessary and boring.

 

Yet, I don't think that this is a bad thing. I don't play games for their stories, and I suspect that the vast majority of gamers don't either. If we want to someone to tell us a story, we'll watch a movie, catch an episode of a TV show, or read a book. We are meant to play games, not watch them, and that is how they are ultimately evaluated. Story doesn't keep us motivated to play a game. Excellent design and execution of the interactive elements do. A game could tell the greatest story in all of human history, but if the interactive portion blows chestnuts, no one is going to bother to suffer through it to find out what happens next.

 

Please, note that I am not saying that stories in games are worthless and that they don't add anything to the overall package, nor am I suggesting that I've never been entertained by one. I am saying, that a story does little to keep me playing. The thrill of beating a boss, getting to the next level, unlocking hidden goodies, or finding some outrageous new power-up does keep me motivated.

 

And just for the record, some of the game stories I have enjoyed include Halo, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and Super Monkey Ball 2.

 

(Okay, that last one is a bit of a joke, but how can you hate a story in which four monkeys go "Let us cooperate, yeah-yeah-woo!" ;) )

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I'm a big RPG/adventure gamer, so I'm used to at least the attempt of a good story being made. Drama can really come through in a game but it has to be done very effectively. My favorite example would be Final Fantasy IV, personally, since the game offers a great sense of desperation at points (hell, they off quite a few characters during the course of the game) and the characters are basic summoner/mage/fighter templates but they have great personalities.

 

System Shock 2 is likewise good, awesome mystery wrapped up in the 'what the hell is going on' and the well-acted logfiles are great. Heck, even Half-Life has its own brand of storytelling. I mean, you have various altercations with that damned helicopter throughout the game, so the moment you finally get to blow it the hell up is a real moment for me. You could consider it a boss battle, but I would say it's effective storytelling, since you are really built up to hate the damn thing.

 

I'd rather play a game with a good story than watch the movie or read the book or the TV show because with the game I'm involved and having to do something to move the story along (even in those games where I can't affect it) gives me a way greater sense of accomplishment. The story may be written, but it's not going anywhere unless I do something about it so I feel more compelled to play and see what happens.

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For me, the story is a huge part of the game. I remember how interested I was in the Final Fantasy stories as they were unfolding before me. I even sat through all of the dialogue in Resident Evil because I actually wanted to hear about the Umbrella corporation's evil plans.

 

For me sometimes, if the story is strong, it's good enough to guide me through a game that is sub par.

 

Glen

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Sometimes it is important, sometimes it is boring.

 

For some of the best games I can't imagine them being half as good as they were without a solid story (MGS, System Shock 2, Baldur's Gate 1&2, KOTOR.) For others I agree the story is sometimes either tacked on of too cliche to hold any real interest or suspense.

 

I find a lot of the japanese games (and anime lately) falls into the same tired cliches. Can we have a Final Fantasy or other RPG/anime where the male and female leads just admit they like/love each other in the first 10 mins and we go from there? I would rather watch their relationship develop over the course of the game than to see them fall in love in the final act (game after game after game.) And maybe the secret to saving the world isn't always an ultimate mecha or magic seed? US developers are just as guilty, but tired stories just make you want to play one of the good ones listed above...

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I like a good story in more of a RPG type of element. There have been some good story lines in FPSG but few and far in-between. A good example IMO is Splinter Cell. An example of an overwhelming story line with way to many cut scenes was The Matrix game; I thought it was a lot of fun when I actually got to play it.

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An example of an overwhelming story line with way to many cut scenes was The Matrix game; I thought it was a lot of fun when I actually got to play it.

 

I'll have to respectfully disagree with you there. The only item I feel that Shiny got right with Enter the Matrix was the inteegration of the story with the game. The rest of the ETM was medicore at best (with special mention to the GODAWFUL driving and flying sequences. utterly atricious!) but the ratio of in-game gameplay to story sequences was just about right IMHO. You want lopsided? Give Metal Gear Solid 2 a try ;) .

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At this point, I think it might be useful to examine the concept of a game. Naturally, there isn't any one specific definition (and it would be silly to draw black & white borders) but we can investigate the past (before the creation of video games) to find some ideas of what exactly we mean when someone says "game".

 

Why is this relevant? Bear with me...

 

Traditionally, games do not involve any intrinsic story elements. Whether they be sports or card or board games, the participants are not actively involved in a story. What is central, however, are the dynamics of play. Things like the rules, the chronology and the score system largely determine the essence of the game.

 

However, as games enter the digital age, participants are presented with, among many new things, the concept of story-telling. Games are no longer restricted to aspects of their play dynamics, but rather, are reaching into other realms - movies, books, etc. I feel if we restrict the concept of "video game" to the traditional understanding of what a game is, it makes it very easy to dismiss story elements. Rather, I feel our hobby falls under the category of Digital Entertainment and as such, should involve things like cinematics and story telling.

 

And that's exactly why I don't subscribe to the "If I want to hear a story, I'll watch a movie" ideology.

 

Much as I find story-telling important (and enjoyable) in video games, I think the most important qualifier is the implementation. MGS should be heavy on story, but Mario Party shouldn't. And I think those are the sentiments some have already expressed above.

 

Just IMHO.

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A good story helps, but isnt really necessary. I've recently found myself working on Splinter Cell again (never finished it) and I have no idea what the hell is really going on with the story, nor do i really care.

 

But then again, I think I would be pissed if the story were entirely absent and I just went on random missions for no good reason. :D That would be stupid. :P

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And that's exactly why I don't subscribe to the "If I want to hear a story, I'll watch a movie" ideology.

 

An ideology that is more than apt in describing several games IMHO. Should Metal Gear Solid 2 be heavier in story than Mario Party? Of course but where do does the line get drawn between a "game" in the traditional sense and an "interactive movie" ?(which is what I would at times classify games such as Xenosaga, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy X).

 

We are admittedly dealing with an interactive medium here so the use of "interactive movie" as a decriptive term is a bit of a misnomer. As always its a matter of viewpoint and subjectivity. If the story is good enough I have little objection to that being a strong focus for a game (determined by the subject matter as you noted Sam). I do however have a problem when the story infringes on time I would prefer to spend playing the game in question. This is again purely subjective and I surely am not presenting this as a factual opinion (oxymoron anyone? ;) ) but one of the main reasons I stopped playing Final Fantasy X was the endless exposition and cut scenes that did not serve to pull me in, but to completely bore me. For me it was truly a case of I'd rather be watching a movie since I did turn on my Playstation 2 with the intention of playing a game, not putting my controller down and hearing Raiden and Rose or Tidus and Yuna go on and on and on and on and on.....which leads to my next point..

 

Implementation. Xenosaga is the perfect example. From the first introduction sequence the game is a long series of cutscenes with a deep and interesting battle system to hold it together as a game. However where as FF forces you to watch these cutscenes (at times over and over again if you lose an important boss battle and your save is right at the point where a long sequence started) Xenosaga allows you to pause its story sequences (bathroom breaks, just want to take a bit of a break etc...) and after having watched them you can skip them at your own liesure. It seems a simple thing to implement and it allows me as the gamer to set my own pace. If I'm going to be presented with a hybrid game/cinematic experience I would prefer to set the pace myself.

 

To each their own in that regard but it comes down to the ideology you first mentioned Sam. When I go into my game room, I go there to game and actively involve myself in a game, not to be a voyeur in in Hideo Kojima's codec universe :D (though thankfully Hideo at the very least allows you to skip all the nonsense!)

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FutureVoid,

 

I do agree that FFX and MGS2 are two games that bundled too much gratuitous cinematics with not enough real gameplay. MGS2, in particular, does indeed blur the boundaries as more of an "interactive movie".

 

You raise some good points about implementation.

 

Perhaps my original statement was a bit strong but we are very much in agreement - cinematics are good provided implementation is proper and appropriate to the subject matter.

 

I just don't agree with the people who dismiss the value of cinematics/story in video games entirely. Games evolve.

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Great points all around here.

 

I do agree with Romier and Sam that context is everything when examining the value of story. And, as always, there is room for personal preferences. Bappo, for example, is more demanding when it comes to story-driven gaming than other gamers.

 

I might say that a good, well-implemented story motivates me to keep playing a game. When I look at story-driven games, the failures are guilty of poor story (or story-telling) or poor execution or both.

 

I understand that some people, for example, had problems with the implementation of Planescape's story -- too much reading.

 

A positive example is KOTOR, where I might have gotten bored at Hour Ten and put the game down without its story-telling and implementation (although I can tell you that I was getting damn sick of Carth "looking like he wanted to say something").

 

-j

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How about throwing in the different types of story integration into this argument?! Half-life integrated its story into the gameplay. For me this is ideal. Cut-scenes, I think, are under appreciated by the majority of gamers.

 

I do not think that one type of game deserves a story and another genre does not (e.g. MGS and Mario Party). A game like SSX tricky uses character development to deepen the game experience in its own way. I think this can be applied to many different game genres. Of course, some implementation is more effective than others.

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Story. Immersion. Nuf said :D

 

I really can't think of a single game I have truelly enjoyed that didn't have a compelling story arc in which I could lose myself. I watch and enjoy movies in the same way. Same with my enjoyment of art and reading a novel.

 

Everyone is different though. Thankfully there are games made for all types of people.

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I really can't think of a single game I have truelly enjoyed that didn't have a compelling story arc in which I could lose myself.

 

An excellent point and its good that you mention and are open minded enough to say that its good different games are made for different people. I can think of many games I've played over the years that are completely lacking in story but are very engaging.

 

Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 are excellent examples of this. The single player game is pure simplicity (in gameplay mechanics and story is almost non-existant) but my god they were such fun games and held my attention much longer than some heavy story driven games.

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Originally posted by kfredericks:

How about throwing in the different types of story integration into this argument?! Half-life integrated its story into the gameplay.

 

I think this option is more to my liking. One of the few games that actually got me involved in the story and the characters was StarFox 64. In that game, you would see some short, introduction cinematic at the start of the level and a short summation at the end. However, the majority of the story was told while you played the levels via the communications between Fox and the other characters. How you performed in each level determined the course of the game, which made me feel more empowered. I wasn't just sitting around watching the story of the game unfold. I was actually doing performing a role in it.

 

Utlimately, I think my ability to enjoy a game's story depends on how well they integrate the effects of my actions upon it.

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Add me to the group that feels story is important!

 

A great story that you watch on screen is one thing but, one that I actually get to be part of, and can affect the outcome, is pretty important, to me.

 

I just bought Freedom Fighters 2 days ago and, I'm on the last mission now. The gameplay is fantastic! But, the story really keeps me interested to find out what the hell happens next.

 

It's one of the main areas that Half Life got soooo many accolades on. If it was just a complete Doom clone, with nothing else, it probably wouldn't have fared as well.

 

Just my opinion.

 

There are some killer games without any story what so ever. Pong, Breakout, Tempest, Tetris, ect...

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I disagree about Half Life, it barely had any story to it at all. What Half Life had was pitch perfect pacing and innovative gameplay that *masked* the lack of story very well. Here's the story of Half Life, it doesn't get more cliche than this:

 

Scientist has experiment go wrong. Aliens invade and scientist must escape lab intact. Along the way he fights aliens, soldiers, and eventually has to kill all the aliens at their source.

 

That's basically it, the same tired plot that has been used 1,000 times by Hollywood B movies. Huge props to Half Life, I loved that game, but a great story it was not. A great experience in interactive and innovative game play yes, story no.

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it doesn't get more cliche than this:

 

I'd argue that these stories are actually better suited to games to begin with because actually participating in that type of a plot makes it a lot fresher than watching it. If Half-Life were a movie, it would be incredibly derivative, but since you ARE Gordon Freeman, you get drawn into the events much more than you otherwise would.

 

That's how it works for me anyway. I started playing Undying and its plot is fairly horror cliche, but it is told well and I'm the protagonist so it's far more interesting than it would be if it were, say, a movie.

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